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Spain Tries to Keep Itself Off of USTR’s Watch List

Each year, the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) puts out what it calls a “Special 301” report, a review of “the of intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and enforcement in trading partners around the word,” as the USTR put it in the Executive Summary of its 2012 edition of the report.

In its 2012 report, the USTR stated that it had removed Spain from its “Watch List” of countries it has serious intellectual property-related concerns about — a designation that can lead to trade sanctions and restrictions — a move that came as “recognition of Spain’s recent efforts with respect to IPR protection and enforcement,” including the implementation of the “Ley Sinde,” a law that specifically targets online copyright infringement.

At the same time, the USTR noted that the U.S. “continues to have serious concerns with respect to criminal IPR enforcement, particularly the 2006 Prosecutor General Circular that appears to decriminalize peer-to-peer file sharing of infringing materials, and urges Spain to take steps to remedy this significant problem.”

In February, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (“IIPA”), a copyright enforcement advocacy and lobbying group, asked that the USTR place Spain back on the Watch List, for “denial of adequate and effective IPR protection or fair and equitable market access.” (In its statement, the IIPA did not specify precisely why Spain should be included; it merely included Spain with 24 other countries that it recommended placing on the Watch List for the same general reasons.)

According to Reuters, the IIPA’s recommendation to place Spain back on the USTR’s Watch List got the attention of Spanish officials, who are now working on a new anti-piracy law designed to “speed up the process” of going after “problem websites.”

Spanish Education and Culture Minister Jose Ignacio Wert told Reuters that “this reform should satisfy those who are worried about Spain’s insufficient level of protection for intellectual property,” including by targeting “linking sites” that point people to infringing content hosted on third-party sites. The law also reportedly includes a measure to block piracy sites from various online payment services, including credit card processors.

It remains to be seen if introduction of the new bill will be enough to keep Spain off of the USTR’s Watch List, but if Spain does find itself back thereon, officials there can at least take heart in the fact that the country isn’t on the USTR’s “Priority Watch List,” which features such well-known hotbeds of piracy as Russia, Thailand, China, Pakistan, India, and our neighbors to the north, Canada, among others.